Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saturday, 28th July, 2012: Invitation accepted

I was today invited for the iftaari at the home of a close friend of mine, Mr. Salman Otaibe, who works in the hospital's pharmacy. The invitation came out of the blue, in the sense that I had never expected such a great gesture from a Saudi person. This is not because I do not consider them nice; in fact, they are very helpful people in many ways. I have quite often received bounties from them that I never thought I would. For example, many a times, Saudi gentlemen and even adolescents stop their cars to give me a lift when I am on my way to the hospital. Another example I can give is my home's landlord, who has accommodated me without any fuss after my friend Dr. Shahid left for India last month. 

Thus, it was with a touch of humility and a sense of being accepted among the Saudis that I accepted the invitation. To be honest, I first thought Salman was pulling my leg. I asked him whether his parents or others at home had been informed and whether my presence would be welcome. He assured me it would be, and also informed me that he was inviting his own colleague Mr. Mohamed, and the physiotherapist at our hospital, Mr. Ahmed Obety (whom I also consider as a friend) ... along with me. I was worried about whether I was expected to honour them with a particular attire or something like that, and he laughed and said any dress would do. 

The sitting room with a large chandelier
The large sufraa laid out with varied fare
He came to pick me up at half past six in the evening. Taking me to his house which is located in a more distant part of Al Muwayh which is known as the "Mukhattat", he chatted with me about his family and other similar stuff. Entering his house's compound, I was led to the main house, where I was taken first into the sitting room or the Majlis. After a little while, Salman took me inside to the dining hall, where a sufraa (a large plastic sheet) was already laid out with a large variety of snacks, bowls of dates, and a large tray with jars of water, sweet-lime juice and other drinks. Here are some pictures of the setting I was welcomed into. Gradually, his family members began to trickle in. The first of these was his younger brother; then, two more of his younger brothers walked in, followed by his other guests Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Ahmed. About five minutes before the actual time of the Maghrib azaan, which is also the time to break the fast, the elders came in, including his father, his uncle and his eldest brother. 

Mr Salman Otaibe with the iftaar items ready for consumption
When the sound of the azaan in the adjoining mosque broke the small talk that was taking place, the gathering took helpings of the fresh dates and broke their fasts. Salman's father was effusive in his manner and exhorted me repeatedly to eat, and to eat well. I was touched. The entire group was then busy eating snacks like samosas, "bhajias", "pizza-like slices", 
The ornate ceiling of the dining room
fruit, chicken pattice, and so on. Salman himself was the serving host, and he busied himself filling glasses of water and juice for each of the nine other persons sitting in our gathering. 

Presently, it was time to end the eating and go for the namaaz. We all got up, and walked to the adjoining mosque where we all joined the gathering for the Maghrib prayers.

This accomplished, we returned to Salman's house for the next course of food, viz. a formal dinner. The previous fare was not removed, but we were served bread, shorba (soup), baked vegetables, and a brinjal curry, along with generous and repetitive helpings of black tea.

From L->R, Salman, his uncle, his elder brother and his father

Salman, the serving host for all

Two of Salman's brothers

L->R, Salman's father, Salman's fourth brother, Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Mohamed
The entire experience was, for me, unique in more ways than one; it was, at the same time, an honour to be invited into a Saudi's home, and, an opportunity to see the culture of Saudis in relation to the customs of Ramadan and iftaar. I am attaching a few more pictures of the evening with the entire gathering assembled around the sufraa.

Do comment on this entry and oblige.


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